FINISH HIM!

Not too long ago, I asked a friend what he would be interested in seeing me talk about on my blog. And he gave me a very good topic. He asked me what I do when my inspiration runs dry mid-writing or when another idea comes along that captivates me despite being in the middle of something else. Do I shelve my current project? Come back to it later? Or what?

The answer to that is really that it depends.

It used to be that I would have multiple projects going all at the same time, but I found over time that it stressed me out. I would realize that nothing was finished – I couldn’t put any one thing out because they were all in states of incomplete-ness. I would find that I was generally just so easily distracted that I could go on and on and stockpile a million works-in-progress. I would have this on-again-off-again relationship with all of my work — I would love it one day and hate the sight of the next. Ultimately I found myself accomplishing…very little.

Now, I try to finish things. Or I at least try to get things broken down into pieces that can be ‘finished’ for a time so I can do a little bit of something else and then come back to it. Or, if absolutely necessary, I finish it even if it means it isn’t absolutely perfect. Perfect is an illusion anyway.

Mostly, though, I do try to balance. For example: I have a several things I’m writing while I’m also working on editing my novel from NaNoWriMo. I know that I cannot do this all in one sitting and I also know that I will lose interest if it’s the only thing I’m doing. So, instead of focusing on just that for as long as it takes, I’m doing it in chapter chunks. That way, I’m satisfied with my progress while balancing out my wandering interests.

My recommendation if you find yourself getting burnt out in the middle of something and getting drawn to something else is this: give it 24 hours. Make a note of this new fantastic idea and sleep on it. If it’s still amazing the next day and you want nothing more than to sink your teeth into it, set a date for when you are coming back to the project you’re currently on. Literally. Get a calendar, plot out how long you think this awesome new something will go and then say, “Okay, on May 1, I’m going to pick this other thing back up.” You’ll know two things by May 1: if that new thing was really as great as it seemed and if the original project is worth going back to.

Are you a starter or a finisher? Do you chronically collect works-in-progress, or do you try to finish anything you start, no matter how crappy it gets? Tell me about it on my Facebook!

 

Life Lessons from Amanda Palmer

I can’t get the line of the Ukulele Anthem out of my head. Amanda Palmer sings, “Quit the bitching on your blog, and stop pretending art is hard.” It’s a great song, but something about that line specifically has stuck with me for, like, months.

There’s the song, if you haven’t heard it. Holy fuck, it so fantastic.

The line gave me pause I think because I remember a time when I would have been really angry about it. I would have gone, “Yeah, okay, let’s all pretend this is easy. Right. ARTISTS SUFFER.”

And now I’m like, “She’s right.” Simple as that.

When did art get complicated? When did we look at it as something that is a cause for suffering and anxiety and worry? And not just the occasional “I’m a fraud” kind of worry, but the paralysis of not working on anything, of not doing anything because we’re gripped with indecision. Because we are obsessed with the questions of “who will even read this?” or “why would the world even want this?”

At some point, I think I just got tired of constantly not doing things. Or, worse, taking all the precious time I had to make those things and instead griping about how difficult it was.

So I quit bitching. I quit pretending that everything had to be polished and perfect. I just made shit. I’m still making shit. It’s awesome.

Try it. It may save your life.

Managing Writing Goals

My office is filled with the sound of constant tapping, and I am aware that I have been at this for hours now. I check my word count. So proud. I scroll through the pages. It’s good. Very good.

And then I think of another project.

And another.

And two blogs.

That have been untouched.

I fizzle. My writing heart deflates like a cartoon balloon, pbbt-ing into nothingness.

Sometimes I can keep writing despite this sudden paperweight of anxiety and uncertainty, but it is hard. So, I took some time out to start piecing apart my goals and projects, and I would encourage you to do the same if you find yourself going, “This is all well and good but what about [other project]? Should I be doing that?”

  • Stop and ask, “Who am I right now? What is important to me?” If the answer is, “I am a person with a very hectic day job and I need the escapism that writing can afford me,” then maybe it means that you should manage your time more around pleasure writing than searching for marketing ideas.
  • Pick three flavors. Your writing life is an ice cream store. You get up to three scoops. No more. So which ones do you want to try right now? If you want to edit your book, manage your blog and finish that short story, maybe you could wait to start that parody zine.
  • Ask yourself if the problem is you or the clock. Do you actually not want to be doing a given task, or are you just poorly managing your time and energy? Step back with a spreadsheet that has your day broken down by 15 minute increments. Color-code everything that you have to do, and then break up the rest into what you want to do. Stick to that.
  • Always keep a sticky note of “Do Unto Others.” It’s one thing to lose sight of your own projects, but if you have a commitment to someone else, be sure that you are factoring that in.

What sort of tactics do you use to manage your time? Are you good at keeping track of everything or do you get easily distracted by the squirrels?

Trying (All the) Times

clock

It’s a big HOT TIP for writers: find out when you work best. Experiment and find out that secret segment of time when you are the most productive, when the creative juices are absolutely at their gushiest (ew).

I know every single of one of you probably went, “Sure! But…morning time isn’t happening. For obvious reasons*.”

*obvious reasons = warm blankets, constant zzz’s, Mr. Sandman.

Or, as a variation, “Okay! But…night is not going to work. That just isn’t for me*.”

*because the house is creaky or my wife gets cranky if I stay up or…

Look. You have to try everything.

Recently, we’ve headed into the busy time of my day job. We’re in the middle of the season where we get most of the workload. We are required to do overtime. We work on weekends sometimes. And at this point, there have been many days where I’ve gotten done, wandered downstairs and melted my butt into the couch. I’m not too proud to admit that.

Over the past week, however, I’ve started getting up an extra 30 minutes. That’s all. 30 minutes. That’s not even a whole episode of “Cutthroat Kitchen.” I’ve made myself stay at at least an upright sitting position and I have gotten shit done.

It works. Try it. Or, if you’re on the opposite end of the scale, try staying up a half hour later. It’s not much, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But you will have tried.

Is there a time of day that you have avoided because it just seems utterly impossible? Have you tried a different one and been shocked and awed by the results? Tell me about it in the comments or on my Facebook page!

NaNo: It’s Coming

A friend told me today that he is thinking about doing NaNoWriMo. He asked if I had any advice. I would like to share this advice with you too, dear reader, dear writer.

Don’t do it for any reason other than to write and have fun doing it. Don’t do it for anyone else or because you feel like you ‘have’ to. It has to be the marriage of challenge and joy.

Prepare, but don’t prepare too much. The devil is in the details, and analysis paralysis will be your enemy. Think over the next week the type of book you want to write, the type of characters you want to give birth to. If you can create a book jacket summary of the overall arc, cool. If not, also cool.

Small chunks of writing will work better than marathon writing. Squeeze it into your schedule. If you don’t already love to write for five hours, you aren’t going to start now.

Don’t give up. Don’t get to the 20th and go, “I only have x words, there’s no way I’m going to get to 50k, I’m done.” Fight to the end. See what happens. Miracles have happened in mere hours.

Just by wanting to do it, you are ahead of the millions of people who say “someday I’ll…” Celebrate that, but just not too much.

If you want to share your creature as it awakens, do it. But tell people to hand over the roses and leave the thorns until 12/1. Because you will want to edit. Every writer does. You will hear yourself say, “Oh wait, this should be this” or “that should have not happened.” Leave the casualties and save yourself.

You can do it. I believe in you.

[How to Have a Day Job] On Kindness and Magic

howtohaveadayjobsnow

This week, I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. This was a Christmas morning surprise of a book – I was browsing Audible with my monthly credit in hand, and it popped up in the new releases. A book on creativity by the Ted-talking, globetrotting, smooth-talking (not in the sleazy sense, but in the read-me-my-library sense) authoress with the mostest? Yes, please!

In the midst of her discussions on being kind to your creative spirit, I hit a chapter called “Day Jobs.” My throat tightened just a bit. I was a little nervous, because I was afraid that this was going to completely take the wind out of my sails. Was the world’s foremost authority on eating, praying and loving going to take over what I had started?

Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. I was actually really excited about hearing what she had to say.

I did not expect that she would so perfectly summarize what I’ve been trying to convey with How to Have a Day Job from day 1.

To yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away. Because you’re making really loud noises, and your face looks weird when you do that.

She also talked about how she kept up her day jobs through three book publications before she quit to write full time. Three books. And admitted that if the third book hadn’t been such a success she would still be working day jobs so she didn’t have to put that pressure on herself, her craft and her finances.

So if you’re wondering why I keep talking about this, about all of this, about balancing your life and your paycheck, about managing your sanity while you clock in and out, this is it. It isn’t fair or nice to say to your vocation, “Hey, pick up the slack, buddy.” Who would stick around for that kind of abuse? Feed yourself, pay your bills, and give your muse the time it deserves to flourish comfortably.

Writing About Buying a House About Writing

boxes

Recently, life has been a lot about breathing.

Stopping and taking long, deep inhalations. Drawing out heavy, whooshing exhalations. Saying, “Yes, I will freak out for this few seconds, and then I’m going to get back to work.”

My husband and I are buying a house. They tell you about the money part of it, how you need to have cash that will sing, that will tell people, “How about this guy? She is ready for this piece of property to be hers.” What they don’t tell you, though, is how much time you need.

How did people buy houses before smartphones and text messaging? Did people have to actually spend as many hours as I have just in text dialogues alone stepping away from their lives to get all this down? I have thanked a lucky star every time I’ve been able to sign a document electronically because if I had to actually go somewhere and do it in person every time I would have already lost my mind.

Getting overwhelmed has been easy. Casting one eye across a home that has been my hidey-hole, my magpie nest, my asylum for eight years…I can’t even believe how much can be accrued in that long. But here it all is. And it needs to be processed, looked at, decided upon, weighed, judged, tossed, packed, rehomed.

And I have to stop, take one of those breaths, and say, “Just one box. One box at a time.” And that’s made it easier.

When taking up a writing project, it’s easy to only see the sprawling expanse of words, letters, and keys. You start to go cross-eyed considering how many paragraphs are going to go into it, how much time it’s going to take just to get through a chapter, let alone a whole damn part of the thing. How are you going to get all the stuff that’s mashed into your brain compartmentalized enough to get on paper? You start reconsidering your life’s journey. Maybe information technology¬†should¬†have been your major.

Stop.

Don’t do that to yourself.

You can’t pack an entire house in the blink of an eye. And you can’t write a book in one sitting. You are both the person eating the elephant and the elephant itself. Take one bite at a time. You’ll be okay.

You are the king of time. Rule.

You Might Think It’s Easy, But It’s Snot

jurassicpark_BIG

Since I got back on Sunday, I have been sick.

Husbando had had a head cold a few weeks previously, and I felt like I had somehow sneaked past without getting its attention. As if the cold were a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and I was Sam Neill with the flare. Little did I realize that in no time I would end up a bit more like…Jeff Goldblum. You know, where he spazzes out and people start dying.

As a result, I’ve been floundering trying to be productive. And you’d think, “Oh, you can just blog while you’re lying in bed.” But it’s not so easy. Because that requires thinking, and that’s no simple feat when your brain is drowning in mucus.

Ew.

Here are a few things you can do if you, like me, get sick and feel like a worthless sack:

1. Catch up on some research — Take a look at some of those places you’re going to feature in your next book. Or search for inspiring images on Pinterest to motivate you to get a better sense of your characters.

2. Write some poetry — Don’t think too hard on it. Just let it flow out onto the paper.

3. Make a list — I love lists, if you couldn’t tell that from March’s 30 Lists. But they really are a good way to collect your thoughts in a short, sweet way. Think about what you’re going to blog about, what topics you want to write about, what books have inspired you.

4. Go easy on yourself — If you push too hard, you’re going to wind up sicker for a longer amount of time. Take frequent breaks. Keep hydrated. Get plenty of sleep.

5. Catch up on other writers’ blogs — We’re always telling ourselves not to fall down the blog rabbit hole, but in truth, when you’re having a hard time getting anything done, you can draw strength from awesome writers around you. Indulge and take a look at, say, Terrible Minds. Or The Cult.

Now you’re all set to feel better about not doing anything because life is currently a snotty mountain of tissues. Huzzah!

Worry, Thy Name is Piglet

I talk very openly about my issues with anxiety, depression, and obsessive thinking nowadays. It used to be something I only discussed with people who would experience it on a day to day basis, which was mostly roommates. It was like a little troll that followed me around. Hanging out with me for a few hours, and you may have never seen it. I could stuff it into my pockets or stick it in the backseat of my car. But if you lived with me day to day, you were going to notice it waddling around the apartment, generally being a nuisance.

I’ve dealt with these issues thanks to medication, but what many people don’t realize is that medication doesn’t make the problem go away. The troll doesn’t disappear like one of the green mucus critters from the mucinex commercials. The medication just puts the troll in a box. That way, I can carry the troll around and go about my business. It doesn’t change the fact that I have to drag it wherever I go and listen to it being an all-around pain in butt.

Suffice to say: I still have bad days.

Recently, I was struck by a day in which I was chronically worrying. I went to the mall. I worried. I bought some cute clothes. I worried. I finished reading a book and bought a dozen chocolate chip cookies. I worried.

As I drove in my car through gross, cold rain, I listened to a meditation in which it was encouraged to greet your negative feelings.

Hello, worry.

I did feel silly.

“Acknowledge the feeling. Welcome it, and make the decision to go about your business.”

Hi, worry. Yes, I see you there. No, I don’t want to hang out. Go away. Again, my instinct was seeing the troll, the annoying little jerk-in-the-box who was bothering and nagging and that needed to be exterminated by chronic foot-up-the-ass.

The meditation then went on to recommend giving the feeling an actual character. It encouraged making this fun and whimsical. And I’m not sure why it clicked with me at that moment, but I knew what my worry was. I knew what I wanted it to be. Thank you, Disney Store.

Piglet. From Winnie the Pooh.

pigletWho doesn’t freaking love Piglet? He’s constantly, hilariously frazzled. He’s always getting blown around because he’s a little guy, and as a result, he’s just in a perpetual state of “hot mess.” Piglet is a hot damn mess.

Suddenly, my worrying took on a different role in my head. I wasn’t really mad at it, or annoyed. I was laughing at it. I was imagining my own “deary dear dear” Piglet, wringing his little paws, and I was able to go, “Piglet, chill. Oh my god, everything’s okay.”

I felt so much better.

When’s the last time you tried to change your perspective on how you were feeling about something? What is keeping you from, say, writing or finishing a project? Is there a way you could laugh at it instead of feeling stressed out?